Topsy turvy. That definitely is the prevailing theme for my summer. Every time I get a plan in place, something happens to send me scurrying for a new plan – that might send me 500 miles in the other direction.
This is the summer before my fourth year of Ph.D study, which means I will be running around the country to any archives I can find before settling into my residency at Mt. Vernon this fall. Last summer I was still holed up in my apartment cramming for comps, so this is my first, true archival summer. And it is definitely going to be an adventure.
Today I drove from central Virginia to Ohio. It was about 530 miles and took me about 8 hours. I’ve done this particular route about 4 times a year for the last few years, and it’s proved I can be a real road warrior. Don’t stop — that’s the key. And I only almost died about three times this trip thanks to other cars swerving into to me, which adds just the right rush of adrenaline to keep you awake for another hour. From Ohio, I’m going to California, then back to Ohio. From there, I’ll be working my way south to Mississippi. And who knows where I’m going from there. One thing is for certain, I’ll be racking up the miles, and hopefully, stupendous materials to flush out my diss.
So stay tuned for highlights from a Ph.D student’s version on the Great American Road Trip.
I am very pleased to announce that I have been awarded a fellowship at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington next year. I am very excited and can’t wait to get started!
While reading and preparing for discussion sections this week, I was struck by this explanation of “revolutionary millenarianism” in Steve J. Stern’s Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640 (2nd edition 1993):
The ideological core of “revolutionary millenarianism” — then and now, in the Andes and elsewhere — has been the desperate vision of an imminent, totally comprehensive transformation which, by the power of supernatural forces and the insurgents’ own moral purification, will soon destroy an evil social order and regenerate a new, perfect world in its place. Historically, such movements have appealed to sharply disaffected social groups who experience a profound crisis of confidence. They not only find it difficult or impractical to launch a more direct political or military assault against the sources of their discontent, but have also lost confidence in the moral integrity of their own lives. The mixture of radical disaffection, political impotence, and inner doubts imparts to such crises an especially spiritual or moral character, even though the discontent stems from socioeconomic processes. (67)
I was startled at how similar Stern’s explanation of the forces at work in the Toki Onqoy Revival – a spiritual revival among indigenous Andean peoples in the 16th century – matched some of the explanations that have emerged for today’s ISIS, except that easy access to modern weaponry has added “military assault” to the equation. The fact that this explanation appears in a history book whose first edition appeared in 1982 and whose current, 2nd edition, appeared in 1993, over a decade before ISIS became widely known, makes me more convinced then ever of the need for historical education in order to understand and hopefully resolve contemporary developments. We might think that ISIS is some phenomenon never before seen in history, but Stern’s explanation of the Toki Onqoy Revival show this thinking is not entirely true. Particular circumstances and causes might be different for ISIS, but the underlying logic of human behavior is similar to other historical revivals.
I know, I’ve been gone a long time. But I am pleased to announce that I passed my comprehensive exams and am now officially a Ph.D student at the University of Virginia! I am now moving on to presenting my dissertation prospectus, locating archives and grants, outlining dissertation chapters, and all the other aspects of working towards a Ph.D that I’ve never experienced before. I must admit, this comparatively free-form manner of study is a bit overwhelming with its manifold possibilities, but I am sure to find my feet and direction in due time. Onwards!
Well, of course there are vampires in the stacks – they’re called grad students! But this time it is a book titled Vampires of New York (1831) by Clement Robbins. That would make any bored researcher sit up! Turns out it is a volume describing popular gambling card games and the gambling halls in New York in the early 1830s, presumably so that young men and law enforcement will know how to identify and shut down these sinful activities that suck the souls out of American youth. Nefarious!! Available on Hathitrust
When I started grad school, I had no idea what bibliography was, and let’s be honest, I still don’t. But it is because of bibliographers that such wonderful lists like this one exist to save poor, bewildered historians like me. For the last year or two, I have sometimes used the online database called American Historical Imprints I: Shaw and American Historical Imprints II: Shoemaker. What I only learned today is that this is the digital version of bibliographic checklists of American printed material from about 1643-1819 compiled by Charles Evans Shaw and Richard Shoemaker. Today I was searching around on HathiTrust (another online resource to which I could happily devout whole odes), and I came across M. Frances Cooper’s A Checklist of American Imprints, 1820-1829. Apparently, Mr. Cooper (bless his heart) has produced another bibliographic index of imprints up to 1849, the period in which I do a lot of my work. So, for the next week or two, if you need me, I will be busily searching through these indices while murmuring “God bless the bibliographer” to myself.
It is a widely known problem that a biographer’s great love for his/her subject can produce vituperation for any other similar individual. Today I came across one of the most blunt denunciations I’ve ever read in a biography. Harlow Giles Unger’s The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness closes, “One by one, President Monroe’s self-serving, politically ambitious successors undermined the national unity he created during his presidency, and during the thirty-five years that followed, the Era of Good Feelings metamorphosed into civil war.” (347). Well, nothing like a rousing generalization to close a book. There goes historical contingency.
Sometimes you find something really different and really weird in the stacks. Today I found this… the work of an immigrant, Illyrian Catholic priest explaining how many, many events – like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are signs of the forthcoming Millenium. It’s available on HathiTrust.